Words fail to capture the despair
November 30, 2001
Email from Farnaz Fassihi to her friends. Fassihi is in Afghanistan
reporting for the New Jersey Star
Our first impression upon leaving the Iranian border of Dogharoun and
entering Afghanistan was that we had passed through the gates of Time.The
road to Herat is non-existant and the phrase "in the middle of no where"
was invented for this passage.
For four hours the three-car convoy carrying us and a group of other
foreign journalists drove through a bumpy, rocky and dusty field where other
cars had paved a make-shift road. At times the cloud of dust was so intense
that we could not see even 10 feet ahead of us.
On our way, we passed villages made of mud huts. Its locals were sitting
aimlessly around. There is no electricity and a water well is miles away.
It is not possible to articulate or even write a story that will do justice
to the misery here. Words and images fail to capture the intensity and the
despair. It's beyond what any one of us reporters ever imagined.
Along side the road were dozens of little children, some as young as
four and five, who waved at the cars carrying foreigners and begged for
food. They cried and pleaded for help. They didn't have shoes. They did't
have warm clothes. Along the same road were also many crippled, arm-less
and leg-less men begging for just the same and shouting at our cars to stop.
Then as we thought we've seen the worst, we passed by Maslakh. The world's
largest refugee camp with 200,000 displaced people awaiting help. The lucky
ones are sheltered in mud houses and tents set up by the UNHCR. But there
were at least a thousand people who had neither. They had simply camped
on the bare ground.
Today, a five-year-old girl died in front of the AP reporter who was
visiting the camp. The Red Cross says every morning they find dead bodies
of people who did not make it through the deadly cold night. Many are dying
from hunger because relief efforts have not fully been resumed yet.
Alas, we arrived in Herat and the city is slowly coming to life. It's
uplifting to see how happy people are at the downfall of the Taliban and
how quickly they are trying to resume to normalcy. Today, Herat held the
first ever election in Afghanistan in 30 years and it was a nice thing to
However, every time we step outside endless little faces gather around
us and ask for help. Women cling to us and beg for us to take down their
names in case aid was on the way. They are still clad in burqas but they
walk around alone, shop and go about their daily routines.The men are either
clean-shaved or have trimmed beards. There's been a line in front of the
barber shop around the corner every day.
As for us, when you see how desperate people are living, you are ashamed
to complain about the lack of luxury. Our hotel is okay. It's safe. We have
two armed guards at the door and a curfew at 8 p.m. when we are not allowed
to leave this place. There is only electricity a few hours in the evening.
At night it gets very cold. There are small oil heaters but they don't
do much. No warm water to speak of and well, it's not exactly clean here
either. We are already sick and on anti-biotic medication despite not eating
nor drinking anything. I've brought canned food from Iran and the hotel
has bottled water and fresh bread.
Despite all this, I'm glad to be here. Before coming I was excited about
the assignment , adventure, my career and bullshit like that. After two
days here and this endless visible misery the only reason I can think of
for being here is to tell stories that hopefully will help these people.
God help us.